Ray Ager invites us to
Parlons Pétanque – Let’s Talk Pétanque
If you ever play in France, you’ll soon learn that pétanque has its own language, a few words all of its own and lots of expressions that all add to the ambience of the game. The stereotype of the Provençal player is a theatrical type, who loves to talk, banter and play to the gallery, “faire la musique” or “faire le cinéma”!
Let’s start with a few English terms. Firstly, pétanque, pronounced “pay-tonk” or “pay-tanka” if you want to add an authentic Marseille accent, is played on a terrain and not a court or pitch.
The game is played with boules not ‘bowls’ or ‘balls’. (NB The ‘s’ isn’t pronounced.) Boules rhymes with fool – not ‘boo-lay’! Boules are both the boules you use to play with and also the generic name for a family of different boules games. Unless you wish to specifically refer to one single boule, boules is usually plural. Just as you say, “let’s play cards” and not “let’s play card”, you normally say “let’s play boules”.
Pétanque, played initially 6 to 10m from the circle – playing with both feet inside the circle – is by far the most popular game. Played on an irregular, unprepared gravel surface, you can play almost anywhere – the village square, in a park or forest, on a gravel pavement, etc.
Pétanque is derived from Le Jeu Provençal, the “Provence Game” – usually called La Longue, the long game. Can you guess why? Of course, because it’s played over a longer distance, 15 to 21m, using the same boules as pétanque. Whilst the principles are the same, the main difference in techniques is that le pointeur (pointer) takes one step forward or sideways and le tireur (shooter) takes three running steps – les trois pas – and must shoot on the third step. Rolling shots, à la rafle, are against the rules – this no doubt explains why the French don’t like rolling shots in pétanque. Instead you’re expected to shoot boule-to-boule or au fer.
The other main game is Boules Lyonnaise or simply La Lyonnaise. It’s played with larger and heavier boules, again over longer distances and with running shots. It’s a more athletic boules game, often called Sport Boules. Although still played on a gravel surface, it’s usually a smooth, prepared surface. Rules are stricter and everything has to be marked – no luck allowed! Shots have to be nominated and if you miss, anything moved is put back.
In practise, most people – even in France! – say “let’s have a game of boules” when playing pétanque.
Of course, don’t forget le bouchon, the small target ball – yes, it is a ball, not a boule! In English usage, it’s the ‘jack’ [although many English players call it the coche, a false abbreviation of cochonnet (lit. the piglet) which is a somewhat formal term you rarely hear used on the terrain. [Legend has it that players in Le Midi – the South of France, i.e. Provence – consider it an alien, Parisian term.] All true players call it le but (the goal) or more informally le petit (the little one) or, most commonly, le bouchon (the cork).
Some of the more common French words and phrases
Tu tires ou tu pointes? Do you shoot or point? is the basic question you’ll usually be asked whenever you join a game, showing how important team roles and tactics are. Unless you’re a really excellent shooter, much better to say you point – you’ll impress them that much more if you’re a pointer who can also shoot, rather than a shooter who misses!
NB You’re far more likely to hear the informal tu on the pétanque terrain, rather than the more formal vous.
Boule devant, boule d’argent: a boule in front (of the jack) is better than a boule behind. Difficult to translate exactly, but here argent means money, so it’s sort of “a boule in front of the jack is worth money”, i.e. is a good boule.
(Faire un) devant de boule. To play onto an opponent’s boule, usually when just behind or lateral to the jack. This is a good defensive play because it’s difficult to shoot.
Faire un trou, to make a hole, i.e. when the shooter misses!
Une mène, an end.
Une partie, a game.
La revanche, a return (revenge) match.
La belle, the deciding game in a best-of-three.
C’est quoi, le jeu? What’s the game? i.e. what shot should we play?
Allez, fais-moi plaisir! Go on, make me happy! usually said by a team-mate to encourage their shooter to hit the target boule.
Le rond, the circle.
C’est où, le rond? Where’s the circle?
Les pieds dans le rond! Feet in the circle!
Faire (une) Fanny, to lose a game 13 – 0: quelle horreur!
Bien joué (tiré), Well played (shot)
Lever le bras, Lift your arm, said to encourage players to use the correct technique and not let the boule drop too early on the ground, especially when shooting.
C’est à qui? Means either, Who has the point? i.e. who’s nearest the jack? or who’s turn to play?
There are loads more expressions, not all printable, but these are a few of the more common ones you’re likely to hear on the terrain – Allez-y!